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Forty-five years ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police swore in the first female Mounties rocking conventional understanding of the qualities required to be an officer
Jul 17, 2019
By Jane Hall
This year the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. The first steps on the moon were indeed a giant leap forward for humanity. The bounds of earth’s gravity that had confined past generations were broken, and the sky was no longer the limit. Perhaps the only limits mankind had were self-imposed ways of thinking that accepted existing wisdoms as absolute truths.
One might argue that the first step was largely symbolic, eclipsing the rapid expansion of science that preceded the Apollo 11 mission, and later overshadowing the many space programs it spawned globally. Perhaps, but symbols are important, and no one should ever diminish the vision and courage of those early astronauts and aerospace engineers to set a seemingly impossible goal and reach it. Nor should anyone ever understate the power of symbolism as a catalyst for change.
FEMALE MOUNTIES ROCKED POLICING CONVENTIONS
2019 also marks the 45th anniversary of the swearing in of the first females Mounties of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). At the time, this was a controversial, high-profile move that rocked conventional understanding of the qualities required to be a police officer and fundamentally changed the policing profession.
The RCMP, one of the most recognized police forces in the world, is held in such high esteem that it is considered a symbol of Canada. When the RCMP opened its ranks to women, the world was watching. Time magazine featured a graduating female troop on its famous cover. This generated positive press for an organization that was simply acting on a government mandate to open its ranks to women. Canadian feminist activists in the 1960s deserve the credit for building on a 50-year-old foundation started by a previous generation.
INEQUALITY FOR THE FIRST WOMEN IN POLICING
In 1912, Vancouver became the first city in Canada to bend to pressure from women’s activist groups and hire three female police officers to deal with juveniles in conflict with the law, women as victims of violence and members of the sex trade. These female officers had no uniforms or guns and their authority was limited to children and women.
By the early 1970s, police departments in Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago and Michigan, to name a few, were experimenting with limited numbers of females on patrol. However, rarely, if ever, were these early pioneers afforded the same powers, status, training, uniform and equipment as men. These pioneering police officers were contained by glass ceilings and organizational barriers that denied them the ability to move both laterally and vertically through the organization.
RECRUITING CHALLENGES FOR THE RCMP
There was no policing model apparent for the RCMP to emulate when it was directed to recruit, train and employ women with no career restrictions based on gender.
The RCMP had a problem. Unlike Canadian men, women were not waiting in a large applicant pool hoping to be recruited into the RCMP ranks. The RCMP needed women with the right stuff to join, but most women of the Baby Boom generation had never consider policing as an option.
The task of recruiting women caused the RCMP to alter its recruiting standards of the day in anticipation that female recruits would be older, shorter and possibly married. The height and marriage restrictions were the first to change.
This was a paradigm cultural shift in the RCMP’s approach to recruitment. Historically the RCMP expected recruits to adapt to the RCMP, not the other way around. The acceptance of women became a catalyst for modernization. The introduction of women as Mounties allowed the RCMP to draw upon a more diverse field of male and female applicants that was more reflective of Canadian society.
MORE FEMALE OFFICERS, LESS FIGHTING
Historically, fighting was part of the job for male police officers. It seemed to be a no-lose scenario for offenders. It was macho to fight a Mountie, win or lose. Crown Councils (district attorneys in the US) did not like to clog up the court system with officer assault or resisting arrest charges, preferring to leave that to “street justice.” The introduction of female police officers turned that situation on its head. It was not considered macho to fight with a woman, especially if a man lost a fight to a woman. Assaulting a police officer was no longer acceptable.
The success of women in policing led to a reassessment of what qualities were best suited to the policing profession. Height requirements were replaced by fitness tests grounded in the physical demands of police work. Emotional intelligence, communication skills and critical thinking began to be avalued as desirable policing skills.
Over the past 45 years, the strength and success of the lighter, kinder tone brought by women to policing has been incorporated into the traditional male-dominated culture of policing. Rarely have minority groups had so substantial an impact on dominate cultures. The credit for these achievements belongs to the female activists of the 1960s and those on whose work they built on, who cracked open doors younger women like me could step through.
Back in the U.S. Space Program’s infancy, men and women rushed to be the first astronauts. Dr. Randolph Lovelace was tasked with evaluating female pilots for suitability as astronauts. Many like Geraldyn Cobb met or exceeded the physical and psychological thresholds set by NASA, but suddenly, part way through the training, the rules changed. Astronaut qualifications were expanded to require candidates to have experience as fighter pilots. At the time, women were not eligible in the US or other countries, to be combat pilots.
Geraldyn Cobb, who had passed all the same pre-flight tests as her seven male peers for the Mercury 13, NASA’s inaugural human spaceflight program, could not overcome that barrier. In 1962, Ms. Cobb crossed over from being a potential astronaut pioneer to activist when she testified before Congress and denounced the new requirement.
I have no doubt women will leave footprints on the moon. Sadly Ms. Cobb did not live long enough to see it. I hope the first women pause to pay tribute to Geraldyn Cobb when they do.
About the author
Jane Hall is president of Society of Police Futurists International. She is the author of The Red Wall: a Woman in the RCMP, and chair of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veteran Women’s Council and of the Women in Leadership Team for the Public Safety Leadership Development Consortium, and is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Operation Honour. She lectures on police culture and organizational change for the Law Enforcement Institute of Texas (LEMIT) program and is considered a subject matter expert on police culture. After graduating from Queens University with a B.A. and B.Ed. in 1977 she joined the RCMP and served 21 years.
we have long known that there is little relationship between crime rate and people’s fear of crime. facts don’t matter very much. (e.g., http://abs.sagepub.com/content/39/4/379.short)
a recent RAND publication reminds us that terrorism has declined.
“…an overall decline of terrorism in the West since the 1970s.
These findings suggest that the threat of terrorism should not affect individuals’ behavior in the United States and Western Europe-not even in the wake of a significant terrorist event.”(http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE173.html )
faint hope, that. fear of terrorism remains high (http://www.gallup.com/poll/4909/terrorism-united-states.aspx)
implication: if we focus merely on terrorism- and crime-fighting we will be missing the reassurance that many in our population seek. they seek a perception of “safety” rather than absence of terrorism and crime.
on the up side, if people were rational, we wouldn’t need many cops.
The task, preventing violent extremism, reminds one of “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” While Lamont Cranston might have known, for the rest of us the task remains foreboding.
Any of us should be grateful when simple, understandable and credible hope is put forth. Schanzer et al. have done us that favor. Still, the limits — mostly as laid out by the authors — should be understood.
These are “promising.” We’ve seen promises evaporate in other contexts. These are not easy to pull off. And the barriers to success are non-trivial.
Michela Del Vicario and colleagues wrote an interesting research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/01/02/1517441113.full.pdf). They studied how scientific information and “unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories” are spread via Facebook.
It turns out that both types of information tend to spread via homogeneous “echo chambers.” Scientific information tends to get out faster. The rumors and conspiracy theories have a much longer distribution cycle. And neither group of people talks much to the other.
Most likely, this will surprise few of us. These sorts of processes have been going on since there has been something recognizable as science. The challenge for policing remains how to cope with the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories as their consumers tend to be isolated from sources of scientific evidence.
The challenge goes even beyond that. Police, too, are people, subject to many of the same social processes that affect private citizens. Police, too, may be isolated from scientific evidence. That makes police leadership somewhat of a challenge.
So, as chiefs and sheriffs lead their organizations toward various futures, how can they best enhance the distribution of objective evidence, cope with rumors and conspiracy theories, and encourage the sharing of information across narratives? Surely, transparency can help — rumors and conspiracy theories emerge more often when the supply of objective information is limited. But what else can or should be done?
When U.S. President Reagan was shot, the U.S. went through some soul-searching — and some sense of vengeance — regarding responsibility of those who were mentally ill and also committed a criminal act. States took two diverse approaches, approximately:
- Guilty but mentally ill: The person would be imprisoned but some treatment might be made available in prison versus
- Not guilty by reason of insanity: The person would not be held responsible criminally but could be committed to a mental facility.
There is still disagreement about which approach is preferable and how well each of them works. But we’ve also got a second and even more complicated problem. Where is the boundary between religious zealotry and mental illness — and terrorism. An instructive case is that of the Philadelphia police officer who was attacked Thursday night (http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/us/philadelphia-police-officer-shot/) by someone with a history of mental illness and who claimed to be acting on behalf of Islam and in the name of ISIS.
In the Philadelphia case, how does one separate out the terrorism dimension from the mental illness and from religious zealotry? What rules should police and prosecutors follow? Also keep in mind that the first two clauses of the first amendment to the U.S. constitution guarantee religious freedom.
Labels are convenient and attractive because they are simple. Because they are simple, they can be used to achieve political ends and to unite mobs (virtual or physical). But real cases rarely are so simple.
Police are faced daily with real people who are multidimensional. As transparency burgeons, information on these individuals and their interactions with police will be even more rapidly and widely shared. The potential for firing up mobs and intemperate individuals is significant.
The choices that police have are limited somewhat by law and by service availability. To give a concrete example of the latter, my department wants to be able to refer first-time drug offenders to treatment instead of arresting them. Unfortunately, treatment resources are very limited, so they become enmeshed in the criminal justice system — which rarely makes things better and always is expensive to all parties.
Both strategically and tactically, what should police do while enmeshed in such mine fields? Whatever your answer, now play out the processes and the political winds/whimsy to test the viability of the answer.
Most people seem to agree that the primary purpose of terrorism is to create terror. At least we agree in theory. When it gets down to brass tacks, agreement is a little harder to come by.
We label events as “terrorism” (or not) depending in part on:
a. association with others we label terrorists
b. damage done, injuries and deaths caused, especially if at a socially valued target (gang fights in the slums rarely are labeled terrorism).
c. whether we are surprised at the event, e.g., we don’t label as terrorism the “usual” friday night bar fight, anything that’s “normal” for the neighborhood (even if people are made afraid).
d. political proclivities and the sociological other
What seems odd is that, other than the folks who are “hysterical for a living,” few seem interested in measuring fearfulness. Media denizens don’t generally use objective measures, so they’re not helpful for our purpose.
We’re left with a definition way out of sync with how we actually apply the label. So, where are we likely to be going, e.g.,
a. abandon the concept of terrorism, merging it instead with “violent crime” or something similar? This would implicitly recognize that victims of violent — and even nonviolent — crimes often become fearful.
b. consistently restrict it to events where the avowed purpose was to create fear. If this choice is adopted, the label would have to be an outcome of subsequent investigation. That delay probably would not sit well with the political classes.
c. abandon the term as rife with surplus meaning, misleading, and, errrr, fear-mongering.